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11/20/08 5:42 PM EST
Volcker talks economics with owners
Former Federal Reserve chairman offers insights at Selig's invitation
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wanted to make his point about the sliding global economy to the owners on Thursday at their final joint session of the year. But instead of doing it himself, he brought in a big gun: Paul Volcker, the chairman of the Federal Reserve under two presidents -- Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan -- and a leading economic advisor to baseball in the past. "He gave his usual extremely well-given presentation about the economy," Selig said. "As you know, he's an advisor to President-elect Obama. He's a former fed chairman and everything else. It was a most interesting view on the economy and all of its manifestations." With the Winter Meetings upcoming in early December, and the Hot Stove season beginning to heat up, thus far the largest reported offer is a six-year, $140 million deal the Yankees presented last Friday to free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia. Among deals that have been completed, the largest was the Cubs' re-signing of pitcher Ryan Dempster for four years at $52 million. Volcker was an economic advisor to Barack Obama during his presidential campaign and since the election, he has been mentioned as a candidate for secretary of the treasury. He's no stranger to MLB, having sat on the Blue Ribbon panel that authored a report on the industry's once-fragile economic condition earlier in this decade. Selig declined to elaborate on Volcker's remarks, but he said a message had obviously been sent to the owners. "Paul was at the World Series and I told him, 'Maybe we'll have you come in if you're free.' He gave a report on the economy that I thought the clubs would find interesting." Selig has been saying all postseason that although MLB's gross revenues had grown to new levels and attendance was virtually even with 2007, the clubs needed to watch their spending and keep ticket costs down because the full weight of the country's economic issues may have yet to be felt. Selig told the owners on Thursday that final gross revenues for the 2008 season were about $6.5 billion, up from $6.1 billion in 2007, which was a record. "Look, we had a great year," he said. "But this is an interesting world." MLB has two marquee events on the 2009 horizon: The MLB Network debuts on Jan. 1 to a potential basic cable audience of 50 million homes, and the second running of the World Baseball Classic is scheduled for March 5-23. Even with those events as a backdrop for the upcoming season, Selig said he could not predict how baseball's revenue will track in 2009. "This is November and there's no sense," Selig said. "I can't read what's going to happen next year. I have no idea. And in truth, and in fact, nobody knows what's going to happen. If you watch business channels and read The Wall Street Journal every day, nobody really knows. That's why I brought Paul Volcker in to give his insights. Let everybody make their own judgments." From the central office perspective, MLB is making some adjustments. On Wednesday, Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said baseball will be trying to do more in 2009 with the same amount of money spent in 2008. That means the central fund budget presented by MLB and approved by the finance committee is the same as last year. Selig said that shouldn't affect how the individual clubs operate this coming season. "This is a time to be very cautious as far as central baseball is concerned," Selig said. "We're always pretty cautious here and we certainly will be cautious as we move ahead. But every club will have to determine for themselves what's the best thing to do or if anything is even necessary."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.